BAGHDAD, Iraq – Insurgents pressed their attack on U.S. troops and Iraq's security forces Saturday, killing five Iraqi police officers and wounding 14 American soldiers in a relentless effort to derail next month's elections. A U.S. Marine also was killed in the province containing the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.
However, Iraqi officials maintain that vote preparations are on schedule.
The Marine was killed in action Saturday in the volatile western Anbar province, the military said. The Marine, assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (search), was killed "while conducting security and stabilization operations" in Anbar, a military statement said.
No further details were immediately available. Anbar contains the battleground cities of Ramadi and Fallujah.
The Marine's identity was not released. As of Saturday, at least 1,287 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
The 14 Americans were wounded in separate attacks in northern Iraq. One car bombing and ambush wounded eight soldiers, prompting an American warplane to drop a 500-pound bomb on an insurgent position in Mosul (search).
"The commanders on the ground felt the attack was heavy enough to call in close air support," military spokeswoman Capt. Angela Bowman said.
Violence continues to grip the Sunni-dominated areas in central Iraq despite last month's U.S.-led assault on the main insurgent stronghold of Fallujah (search) and on an area south of Baghdad. That attack was launched to try to curb the insurgency so parliamentary elections could be held nationwide Jan. 30.
The latest attacks appear to be part of a sweeping intimidation campaign aimed at foiling those elections, in part by killing Iraqis who cooperate with the United States, making them collaborators in the eyes of insurgents.
Police Col. Najeeb al-Joubouri was gunned down on his way to work on a road outside Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad.
Two more police commanders were shot and killed in Baghdad's southwestern Saidiyah neighborhood in an early-morning ambush. A senior Interior Ministry official identified the victims as Brig. Gen. Razzaq Karim Mahmood and Col. Karim Farhan.
Gunmen ambushed a police patrol in Baghdad's northern suburb of Azamiyah late Friday, killing a captain and a constable and wounding two others, police Lt. Mohammed al-Obeidi said.
The guerrillas regard the elections as an effort to legitimize a puppet government that will serve U.S. interests.
Iraq's government says the vote will go ahead as scheduled, and preparations continued Saturday, with election officials saying candidates from 70 political parties and coalitions have filed so far. The filing deadline is Dec. 15.
In other violence, gunmen shot and killed a Shiite cleric, Salim al-Yaqoubi, near his home in Baghdad, police said.
A second Shiite cleric, Sheik Ammar al-Joubouri (search), was slain Friday near Mahmoudiya, about 25 miles south of Baghdad, while driving to the capital. Al-Joubouri once headed a religious court of followers of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the southern holy city of Najaf.
In northern Iraq, a suspected suicide car bomber wounded two U.S. soldiers in Beiji, while two more were wounded in a car bomb blast near Kirkuk, about 60 miles to the north.
Two more U.S. soldiers were wounded by a roadside bomb outside Hawija, near Kirkuk.
A military spokesman said Saturday that U.S. commanders welcomed news that the Pentagon intended to speed up production of armored Humvees.
The issue of whether the military was providing enough protection for its troops received new attention this week after an Iraq-bound National Guardsman questioned Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in neighboring Kuwait on why he and his comrades must comb through scrap piles for metal to protect their vehicles.
"Commanders are looking for any opportunity to increase force protection for the sake of their troops," said Maj. Neal O'Brien, spokesman for the Tikrit-based 1st Infantry Division. "Uparmor or add-on armor will always be one of those force protection assets they want more of."